I was torn between seeing Son of God (for which I had very low expectations) and Three Days to Kill, which were playing in theaters literally next door to each other in my local megaplex, but after waiting an inordinately long time in line to buy my Sno-Caps and neglecting to ingest the proper amount of caffeine, I failed to make the start time for one of the pictures, and so the decision as to which movie to see was made for me.
Jesus (Kevin Costner) is, by producers Mark Burnett and Roma Downey’s lights, in the intelligence business, expert at hiding his true identity, which I’m assuming is a nod to the Markan “messianic secret.” He knows that he is not long for this earth but must first perform a very important mission: kill a ruthless international terrorist, whom presumably is a metaphor for sin, death, and the devil.
Now I know there have been intimations in other films that Jesus had — or at least fantasized about having — relationships with women: The Da Vinci Code, The Last Temptation of Christ. But here Jesus is a divorced father of a teenage girl, whom he had apparently abandoned in order to be about his Father’s business, his Father in this case reifed as the State. This to me is pushing the current secularizing trend too far. That Jesus must muss his hair a bit in the sin of the world is one thing; to have him actually taking out bad guys via gun play and fisticuffs is taking a “masculine Christianity” to an absurd extreme.
As far as maintaining dramatic tension, given the familiarity of the tale, I do give the filmmakers’ some credit. There is a fair amount of action in Son of God, far more than in The Passion of the Christ or, for that matter, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Costner does more with the role of the fading-hipster Christ than you would expect, and the role of Pilate is played with a rather ironic detachment (and gender confusion) by Amber Heard. Can Jesus tear down the wall of separation between father and child? Or is he doomed to be forever misunderstood? Whether you stay in your seat long enough to find out will depend on your capacity to suspend disbelief, which in most cases will demand a leap of Kierkegaardian lengths.
I understand that Hollywood is no longer interested in conventional biblical epics, and that some nod to modernity is inevitable, at least as a marketing scheme, but this playing with the Gospel narratives is unforgivable, in this reviewer’s opinion. (For one example, the experimental drug that can grant Jesus “new life” as a metaphor for the “cup” he is to drink was very poorly thought out.) I suppose Downey and Burnett’s heart was in the right place, which is to say posterior to the sternum, if this calamitously revisionist account of the Greatest Story Ever Told is to be believed.
I’m afraid I can’t recommend Son of God to anyone with even a passing interest in the Jesus of the Bible. Nevertheless, I eagerly await the debut of Darren Aronofsky’s Noah, which I hope hews a tad closer to Revelation’s original story line. I’m at least curious as to how Bill Murray pulls off the role of the great Patriarch.